Thursday, July 1, 2010
(New Series No. 176, Feb 2003)
Faridabad, India- Since January, there have been public anncouncements by government officials in several shantytowns ordering residents to vacate the land in 24 hours as the residents were illegal occupants. Many of the shantytowns have been in existence for 40 years. Though Faridabad is a planned industrial city, with space allotted for the housing of managers, supervisors, and government officials, there is no space in the plans for the hundreds of thousands of workers who work there. Workers were forced to build housing illegally on government land and are subject to extortion from all levels of officals. Now that the land has become valuable, they want it back. But where will the workers live?
There are 5,000 to 6,000 dwellings in each shantytown, many of which are pukkah (cement and brick) homes, rather than mud dwellings. Most of the residents are factory workers in companies such as Escorts, Bata, Goodyear and Whirlpool, or they are retrenched workers involved in petty trade.
In January, as soon as the announcement to vacate was made, thousands of residents blocked the national highway close to the shantytown. Police-cane-charged the crows and re-opened the highway. The crowd surged back and blocked the main railway tracks. The trains were stopped. Residents picked up stones from the tracks and threw them at the police. A few arrests were made and by nightfall, things quieted down. The next day, the police, civil administrators, and earth-moving demolition machinery arrayed themselves over a two-mile stretch of road facing the shantytown. That day, most workers stayed home, and thousands kept the police and machinery out. They were forced to put off the demolition. The exercise was illegal, even according to the existing laws. The state government assured the High Courts that it would follow the legal process, which is under way.
Since then, several shantytowns have been shut down. Legal experts and leaders, who claim that they are working to stay the proceedings, are very expensive and cost the workers a lot. One proceedings costs $4,000, when the average monthly salary of the resident is $40/month. By July, the lawyers, besides collecting their fees, started to file the same arguments for each resident, making it simpler for the designated collector to reject the complaints without a glance.
The demolition activities have intensified since July. On many occasions residents joined together spontaneously to save the shantytowns. Other times, the police took residents by surprise and succeeded in their demolitions. Still other times, the middle-men and leaders paved the way for the demolition crews.
These peices of land have become valuable because of development and their proximity to national highways. Shiny new offices, showrooms, bank and commercial enterprises have cropped up in the area, seeing the shantytowns across them as eyesores. Some of the land is also being used for construction of institutional areas and factories.